John Lair

b. 1 July 1894, on a farm near Livingston, Kentucky, USA, d. 13 November 1985, Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Lair developed a childhood interest to become a respected authority on and a collector of old-time…
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Artist Biography

b. 1 July 1894, on a farm near Livingston, Kentucky, USA, d. 13 November 1985, Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Lair developed a childhood interest to become a respected authority on and a collector of old-time music. After military service in World War I, he ran the family farm until, concerned by the threatened over-development of Renfro Valley, he moved to Battle Creek, Michigan. Here, he worked as a teacher and an insurance agent, before becoming a programme director at WLS Chicago in 1927. He immediately began to organize the station’s National Barn Dance programme and formed a band of musicians and singers that he called the Cumberland Ridge Runners. He occasionally played harmonica and jug, but, being no great musician himself, he usually confined himself to narrations, writing material and announcing duties. In 1937, Lair left WLS for WLW Cincinnati, where he helped create theBoone County Jamboree and soon afterwards theRenfro Valley Barn Dance, which, through his business acumen and some help from others, including Red Foley and Slim Miller, Lair moved to his own home in Renfro Valley, Kentucky, in 1939. The programme, which took place in a barn, was soon carried by WHAS Louisville, whose transmissions in turn were carried by other stations, even, eventually, by the NBC Network. The programme helped to launch the careers of many artists including the Coon Creek Girls and on its 25th anniversary in 1962, the State Governor proudly declared Lair’s show ‘a Kentucky institution’. The Barn Dance was only one of the many folk music activities that Lair organized and his beloved Valley eventually became a noted tourist attraction with its festivals, museum and shops.